Category Archives: Italy

Ghosts, queens and the flow of everyday life

MonasteroCairate

Image by construction worker in the renovation of the Cairate monastery

The local Varese edition of Il Giorno, the newspaper of Milan, has reported about a ghost noticed in the old monastery of Cairate, a small town northwest of the City of Fashion. The monastery is currently under reconstruction and slated to open as one of the sites protected by UNESCO in the region, which was a historic Longobard outpost.

The ghost sighting has been captured by the cellphone of a construction worker and was of such importance that it was reported in several local news outlets. It has also merited the official intervention of the mayor of Cairate and several local authorities, who speculate whose ghost it actually is. Most of them conclude it must be the ghost of Queen Manigonda, the Longobard foundress who built the monastery back in 737. There are also different speculations of why she still inhabits the place as a ghost, and most of them have to do with Frederick Barbarossa who spent the night there before his battle of Legnano (also nearby).

This could happen only in Italy. Continue reading

La Bella Lingua: the memoir vs. the manual

What’s the best way for you to learn another language? Live in a country where it is spoken? Get a well-explained grammar book? Some people learn better by doing, others by getting a detailed map of the knowledge they are about to acquire. Then there’s also a third way.

When I first glanced at Dianne Hales’s La Bella Lingua, in which she tells the story of how she fell in love with Italian and her adventures in the process of learning it, I saw another flower in the Garden of Italian Delight. There are so many other books that tell the personal stories of American women who fell in love with Italy and went there to actually make their declaration of love, starting with the esteemed Under the Tuscan Sun (about buying a house in Italy) to the current Eat, Pray, Love (about, among  other things, falling in love with Italian food). Italy is a country and a story that’s worth telling again and again -besides, that repetition fuels tourism, too.

However, this book is also part of a larger non-fiction trend – the self-help books that don’t instruct you how to do things, but rather tell you the stories of people who have learned to do them. Away from description and classification (the manual)  to personal narrative (the memoir). Written by non-professionals in areas of high emotional demand, like child rearing or diet, these books can’t make a claim for the scientific authority of their lay authors. But neither do they need to, since their goal is inspiration by example coming from successful ordinary trailblazers and the suggestion that anybody can do the same. An invitation to form a community of fellows.  Continue reading

My clothes, my armor. And my mother-in-law

Photo by E. Ivanova

As I’ve always objected, there is no point to “natural” styles in make-up or fashion — if they were really natural, they wouldn’t be styles, after all: a visual concept you have to buy as opposed to something you already are.  This photo on the left I did a couple of years ago sums up the idea: first you scrub yourself of your undesirable natural state (feathers or any trace of hair?) and then you cover yourself with another layer which is supposed to represent your real self much better: your more authentic and hence, ironically, more natural representation. It reminds me of Agrado in All About My Mother,  the transsexual who is convinced that all the changes she did to his/her body are justified by the idea that they make him/her be more like herself.

But this is not about the everyday tranvesting we do to our real selves through clothes. It’s about my mother-in-law, an upper-middle-class woman, Italian at that, who has always seen clothes as her identity shell. Which means that she has always invested a lot of emotion and of herself in her clothes. She hasn’t been going out much lately and her fancy, dressy clothes, so important to her, have not been able to do their role. Continue reading

The loss of mechanical machines

When I was a kid, we used to go on field trips to a local textile factory. There was one machine that sat separately in a large production hall. The manager proudly explained that it was an electronic loom and it could reproduce exactly and quickly any design you enter in its computer memory.

Twenty years later, all looms are electronic. But during my summer visit to Northern Italy, the cradle of the famed textile and fashion industry we all admire, I was surprised to hear people speaking of mechanical looms with nostalgia. Something has changed in the last decades and it’s not just cheap Chinese competition. The machine as we know it is gone, quietly. Continue reading

Small towns on both sides of the Atlantic

It seems that every summer I get new inspiration for a comparison between American and European lifestyles. It must be my vacation in Europe that inspires me to state the obvious. But how can you resist visually absorbing the beauty of European small towns? Falling in love with them? Here is an Italian town, population 50,000, that’s so vibrant and livable that makes me consider how an American small town would compare to it.

Let’s start with the basics: this town doesn’t seem to be affected by any kind of economic crisis, much less a housing one. People seem happy and connected, public spaces are lively and, this being Italy, everything is beautiful. But that’s a bonus that comes with decades if not centuries of historical building preservation 🙂 . Continue reading